In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost
The text from Mark 4, which I just read, is of course the parable of the sower. I guess that most of you know it by heart.
What I don’t expect you to know, though, is the works of the great Danish hymn writer NFS Grundtvig (1783-1872). Later in the service we will sing one of his most famous hymns for you. But the hymn I will quote from now, here in my sermon, is one of his lesser known hymns. It is inspired by todays parable and it is a short and quite simple hymn, where the opening lines go something like this (in my poor translation): “A sowing man went out to sow; with both his hands he spread the seed, because he wanted it to fall, everywhere on the field”.
Well, the sower, we must presume, normally used his one hand. He carried the seed in a fold of his garment or in a container and scattered it with a long sweeping motion. But in Grundtvigs hymn the sower uses both his hands. He uses both his hands in order to spread the seed onto every inch of the field. He wants it to be spread all over the field. It is important to him that it is spread all over the field.
Either Grundtvig was not familiar with the peasants life and work, or - and I think, that this is the case - with this image of the sower using both his hands, Grundtvig wants to tell us, what he hears in Jesu parable of the sower: that the sower, that God, who is like this sower, wants his word to be spread all over, that he is not holding it back, that he is in no way modest, that he is in no way retaining, that he is no way reluctant, in no way parsimonious, you may even say, in no way economically wise.
On the opposite: God is a God of abundance, of richness, of extravagance. God is a giving God, a good giving God, a generous God who is not holding back, God is in no way restricted when it comes to bestow his words upon us, to sending his words to us. With both hands he spreads his seed. He sows his word for us to hear and receive, because that is, what he wants. With the gospel of his son, the narrator of this parable, God sends his message of goodwill, of comfort, of forgiveness to tell us, that we are not forgotten, that we are not out of his sight and mind, that we are important to him, as we are important to our neighbor and fellow man. Generosity, richness, overabundance! That is, according to the gospel, the nature of our heavenly father.
Of course - as Jesus tells his disciples - some of the seed can fall upon barren ground, on the path, on the rocks or among thorns. We certainly know that from ourselves. Some days our spiteful thoughts, our selfishness, our fright, our worries or sorrows, makes it difficult for us to listen and hear anything but ourselves. We are often, as Martin Luther puts it, hooked up in ourselves, imprisoned in ourselves, or in latin: incurvatus in se, and then we see or hear nothing but ourselves.
And, yes, some days all the world around us looks like barren land, only rocks and thorns, with no signs of hope, some times even no signs of God.
But when you despair, when you begin to search for answers only in yourself, and to look no farther than yourself and to listen to nothing but your own wisdom and gutfeeling, your own judgements or ideologies, then remember the image of the sower, the sower, on a day of spring, out there in the field, sowing, perhaps even singing a joyful tune, using both his hands, throwing seed in abundance. With this image in your heart remember that God is not a distant God, in his son he came to us, all the way down to us, to search us, to seek us, to be with us in his word, in his gospel of deliverance, of forgiveness and love towards our fellow man.
God is working, God is always trying, God is - so to say - always in movement towards us and towards our hearts. That is what Jesus tries to tell us in the parable of the sower, or in the parable of the father running towards his long lost remorseful son, or of the shepherd relentlessly searching for his one lost sheep. And sometimes when these good tidings get through to you, when these images of God awakens in your heart, and they give you strength and hope and comfort, then the seed has fallen in the good soil, and bears fruit “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.".
God works, God never gives up. So shall we keep on working, so shall we never give up, and so shall we together be building upon or working for the coming of his kingdom. So shall we bear the fruit of his kingdom.
It is an honor and a privilege for us, the deacons from the diocese of Aarhus, and I, to share this service with you in Beirut’s evangelical church, and it is an honor and a privilege for me to give this sermon here today. We all arrived yesterday from our small and peaceful country in the north, and we are looking forward to, the coming days, to get to know your country and your not so peaceful past better. And we are indeed looking forward to be inspired by your work with reconciliation, integration and peaceful dialogue with other religions. We have a lot to learn from you.
Our history and our present in Denmark and Lebanon are very different, in many ways almost incomparable. But what we have in common is a God and a father and his only begotten son, our Savior and his word that still sounds and which flows freely among us, thanks to His Spirit. The powers of the world can bite and sneer, sorrows and worries can be knocking on our doors, but the sower never stops sowing, and his seed will always, in spite of everything, find the good soil in us and among us. Nothing can stop it or prevent it from doing that “The word they still shall let remain”, as Luther wrote in his famous hymn.
Good grain will still be produced in the world and in our hearts with hope, comfort and belief that the future, when all comes to all, is in the hands of our God and Father. Strange as it is, that a word, a fragile word, like a small seed, which since our Lord has been spoken by weak and deceitful humans, can have such power.
The word of the cross, as Paul, puts it in his letter to the Corinthians, by some is seen as a folly but to us “it is the power of God”. Nothing less. And as Paul continues: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
So this small fragile word, this tiny seed, can change both hearts and minds, it carries the promise that no matter how hopeless things my look today or perhaps tomorrow, God is still planting, God is still sowing, and his seed still grows, perhaps unseen, but it grows, where love and forgiveness, truth and charity, humility and kindness is present among us. And then eventually, one fine day, the field is in blossom.